I am a sucker for cooperative shooters. Get a small team together to fight hordes of enemies, and I am interested. While I get a lot of enjoyment from these games, none have done it better than Left 4 Dead 2 in 2009. The intensity of the moment-to-moment horde fighting and interesting world-building through dialogue and environmental clues captured me, and make an impression to this day.
The Anacrusis studio Stray Bombay appears to understand what made that game work, and it set out to provide as by the numbers of a Left 4 Dead experience as possible. What results is another entry to a recently growing four-player co-op shooter subgenre. But if you are looking for something new and inventive, you will not find it on this starship of terrors.
In space, no one can hear you say, “I’ve seen this before”
In The Anacrusis, your group of players is the only remaining people left on a space colony taken over by headcrab-like aliens. The whole point of the game is to travel from one safe room to the next in each chapter while fighting through aliens looking to add you to their ranks. There are occasional instances of fighting in a locked-down area while waiting for the chance to proceed, but most of the time you are moving forward and taking out whatever is directly ahead of you.
Special enemies pop in every now and then that can trap you in goo, blind you, spawn turrets, or grab you. Predictably, there is also a variant of the L4D Tank called a Brute that is strong and has a lot of health. These enemies, all with silly proper names, range from pretty basic for this kind of game to questionable as to why they are included. For example, the Flasher runs into a room, lets off a bright light, and then stands there until you kill it. I’m glad that the game tried something new with the enemies, but the Flasher particularly seems a little pointless, especially when playing with AI teammates.
Simply put, if you’ve played Left 4 Dead or anything derivative of it, you have a pretty good idea of what you are getting into with this game. There really is not much to separate this from anything that came before besides grabbing some perks from Matter Compilers found around levels — perks include more ammo for your weapons, more health when downed, and other buffs — along with various grenades and special weapons that come in handy in certain situations. While I can’t say any perk stood out to me, I did enjoy the strategizing and game-planning that came after finding a Stasis Grenade or Arc Rifle. Saving them for a large horde or a couple of Brutes could spell the difference between victory and defeat.
While The Anacrusis wears Left 4 Dead inspirations on its sleeves, that doesn’t mean it’s a poor imitation. The gunplay should entertain you for a while and it appeared to run well on PC — outside of the teammate AI being a little lacking at points. My fellow survivors would often get stuck on walls and sometimes ran ahead on their own while I was searching for supplies, a common no-no for this type of game. I also had instances where the AI would waste their health kit on me just moments after I had finished healing already. Besides those issues, it’s about as basic of a cooperative shooter experience as it gets.
Throw it all out to the dark depths of space
The ’70s in space aesthetic that defines The Anacrusis is a neat change from the usual zombie apocalypse you would typically see in a survival shooter, but I wouldn’t say anything particularly interesting has been done here. Many hallways have an orange palette, making the environment feel plain and uninspiring. The retro feel doesn’t feel like a great fit for when you think of living in space. The most interesting the environment gets is the occasional wreckage, which makes the halls of this ship look less like some garish and excessively orange couch your grandparents have in their storage.
Like Left 4 Dead, the story is told through your characters’ dialogue, but I have to confess that I struggled to pay attention to them that much. They’re not bad characters, but their personalities are forgettable, and they don’t say anything that makes me want to learn more about them. Unlike the games that inspired it, The Anacrusis’ cast is bland. In Left 4 Dead, you could become invested in the characters. You loved their quirks like Francis hating everything, Zoey being a huge horror fan, and Ellis’s loveable southern charm. When I look at The Anacrusis cast, I see four random people on a space colony.
While The Anacrusis is in its Early Access phase, only three of the five total episodes are playable as of this early access review, meaning the game is literally not finished yet. Two more episodes are on the way this year, and the game is staying in early access for a while. Luckily, the game is available via Game Pass, which makes it worth a shot if you are interested in Left 4 Dead-like games. But otherwise, you might want to wait a little bit before venturing into the unknown future of The Anacrusis.
6 / 10
|+||Fun, familiar gameplay that includes new ideas for special enemies|
|+||Runs well for the most part on PC|
|+||Grenades and special weapons add strategic possibilities|
|–||Forgettable cast of characters with bad AI|
|–||The ‘70s in space aesthetic is a good idea that doesn’t entirely succeed|